Globalization Has Not Had its Day

The misguided idea that globalization has had its day has come to the fore (again!) because of such recent global events as Donald Trump’s “American Firstism”, the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU, and the increased strength of the European right. While all of these developments are important, they must be viewed in a broader context of changes in the worldwide multidirectional flow of people, information, ideas and objects. Those flows are sometimes expedited, but at other times they are slowed, or even blocked, by barriers. They have been expedited for decades, but a counter-reaction has arisen due to the excesses, real or perceived, of the growth of openness to such flows. That counter-reaction has gained notoriety leading to some real changes (e.g. Brexit) that will impede some global flows. However, much of the counter-reaction has led to little change (e.g. the American Congress’s refusal, at least thus far, to fund Trump’s proposed wall between the United States and Mexico).

While the counter-reaction against “globalism” can still have a great impact, it is not going to end globalization. Globalization is multi-faceted. While some elements (e.g. the flow of people) may be slowed in some parts of the world, many others (especially the flow of information and ideas through such internet sites as Facebook and its almost 2 billion active users worldwide) are accelerating by the day. That these are unstoppable is clear, among other places, in the failure of the Chinese government to close down access to Google. Each new effort is countered by Chinese citizens who quickly find a new way around the most recent barriers.

 

 

Demonizing the “Founder” of McDonald’s: It’s Much More the System than the Man

Although it is rooted in the 1950s and the creation of McDonald’s, the movie “The Founder” is a not-so-subtle attack on ruthless Trumpian-style and –era business practices.

The “founder” in question is Ray Kroc (who never founded anything- not the restaurant, its system, menu additions like Egg McMuffin, the idea that the real money was in the owning of the land on which the franchises were built and the rent that came from it, and so on). After many early failures as a Willy-Loman-like salesman, Kroc was drawn to the McDonald’s brothers’ revolutionary new business model in San Bernardino, California because it had placed an unusually large order for several of the milk shake machines he was hawking. The brothers were happy with their modest success and had no interest in building an empire. Kroc did and to his credit he was willing to work hard and risk all- including his home- on the future of the business which he saw in franchising (another idea and system not founded by Kroc).

But Kroc, like Trump, was ruthless and unethical both in his business and personal life eventually lying repeatedly to succeed. He ultimately screwed the McDonald brothers out of the $100 million a year he had verbally promised to them, but had refused to put in writing. In the end, one wonders whether the deceit was worth it. True, Kroc became a billionaire but he sold his soul in the process. In addition, after his death his wife gave it all away, much of it to the Salvation Army.

The movie is strong on the system that the McDonald brothers created. Its essence is depicted in a neatly choreographed scene on a tennis court with a chalk-drawn and re-drawn floor plan of the restaurant. The system they created drew heavily on Taylorism and time-and-motion studies, as well as on Henry Ford’s assembly line. Indeed, McDonald’s pioneered the assembly-line production of burgers (and other foods) and the treating of its customers as if they were on an assembly-line (especially in the later drive-throughs).

Beyond the McDonald’s “system”, the McDonald brothers created high(er) quality burgers and shakes (both eventually compromised by Kroc), finger food that did not require utensils, a self-service restaurant that kept customers moving because there were no seats, and a clean restaurant and environment that discouraged teenagers from hanging around and making a mess and lots of noise.

Kroc also quickly recognized the value of the name and of the golden arches (also created by the McDonald brothers). As depicted in the movie, he saw a similarity between those arches and church steeples and courthouse structures. In my terms, he is depicted as implicitly recognizing that he was creating a new “cathedral of consumption”.

One of the major problems with the movie is the failure to address some of the larger issues that are part of the process of “McDonaldization”. These include the broader changes that contributed greatly to McDonald’s success (the post WWII growth of automobile sales and travel, the national highway system, and the suburbs) as well as the broader changes it has wrought, especially the McDonaldization of society and of many of its institutions (schools, churches, etc.). Also missing is coverage of the many irrationalities associated with fast food chains (adverse impact on health, the environment, etc) and of McDonaldization more generally (e.g., increased homogenization), as well as even broader issues such as the globalization of the chain, its basic ideas, and its irrationalities which all played a major role in the “globalization of nothing”.

In the end, the movie focuses too much on one “demon” (Kroc), but minimizes larger demons (capitalism) and totally ignores others (the McDonaldization of society and its many irrationalities). As is true in much of the popular media and its products, The Founder individualizes and psychologizes when it needs to “sociologize”.

“Deglobalization”? Not a Chance

In a recent (November 13, 2016) New York Times essay, Ruchir Sharma argued that the lesson of globalization’s past, and of President-elect Donald Trump’s proposals that relate to globalization, “is that just as night follows day, deglobalization follows globalization- and can last as long”. This, of course, is a deterministic “grand narrative”. It is derived from generalizing from a single historical case of the great wave of globalization in the early 20th century (there were a number of other epochs, or phases, before that) and its descent into what might be termed deglobalization with the start of WWI. Determinism, grand narratives, and generalizing from a single case are all “no-nos” in contemporary sociology and most other social sciences.

A more nuanced view requires a perspective on globalization that views it as a dialectic of a series of “flows” and “barriers”. We have recently experienced a period in which the flows (of people, money, ideas, etc.) have been in increasing ascendancy over the barriers. These flows have gone through, around, under and over many different kinds of barriers (especially national borders in Europe). However, the pendulum is now swinging back in the direction of strengthening some of those barriers- and creating new ones- in at least some sectors of society and parts of the world. However, that shift should not be seen as deglobalization, but rather as an aspect of the globalization process itself. Thus, we are not undergoing a process of deglobalization, but rather we are at the early stage of another phase of the globalization process.

Sharma, Chief Global Strategist at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, not only fails to see this, but he has a limited view of globalization as primarily an economic phenomenon (with a little politics thrown in). Such a narrow perspective means that he fails to see that globalization has continued apace, and even accelerated, in many other sectors of society, especially on the internet and, more generally, in the cultural, social, and intellectual realms (among many others).

We may be an era in which there is increasing interest in creating barriers in some sectors of society (e.g., trade, migration), but that is decidedly not the case in many others. Sharma, and those who adopt his perspective, need to develop a broader (especially less economistic) and less deterministic view of globalization. Yes, night does follow day (at least for the foreseeable future), but one should not leap from that to the idea that deglobalization follows globalization. There are trends, but no inevitabiities, in the social world.

The Current Status of the “Arab Spring”

George Ritzer, Introduction to Sociology. Sage, 2013.

Chapter 1, Page 1

The Current Status of the “Arab Spring”

The dramatic changes associated with Arab Spring that began in 2010  continue to reverberate in 2013. Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, among others, are trying to create and institutionalize more democratic regimes. Other parts of the Muslim world such as Bahrain and Jordan are experiencing unrest, although significant change has yet to occur. Especially notable is the civil war that has raged in Syria since early 2011. The euphoria of the early years of Arab Spring has given way, at least for some, to worry about its negative consequences. While the deaths of tyrants like Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya, and the departure of others from Tunisia and Yemen, are welcome developments, those despots had managed to suppress internal differences in their countries and to exert at least some control over their borders. However, their demise and the continuing failure to replace them with strong democratic regimes have had a variety of dangerous consequences.

As a result, new areas of violence and bloodshed have arisen (including the killing of the American Ambassador to Libya in 2012), especially in the African area known as Sahel. This is a band of land that stretches across North Africa from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea and lies between the desert areas to the north and the grassy plains to the south. It cuts through several troubled countries, most notably two recent and interrelated trouble spots Mali (Hagberg and Korling, 2012) and Algeria.

Mali has been experiencing for some time a low-level civil war involving the Tuareg minority in the northern part of the country, but the country was  destabilized by a coup d’etat in 2012 that overthrew the president and further weakened the government. The war in the north took on a new form and was heightened in intensity by weakened borders with neighboring Libya and the resulting influx of weapons and fighters, the existence of members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in northern Mali, as well as the influx of battle-hardened militant Islamists from elsewhere in the Middle East. The Islamists began to move south conquering a vast portion of Mali and by late 2012 they threatened to take over the entire country. The French intervened militarily in Mali (their former colony) in order to prevent it from becoming a radical Islamic state.

As this was happening, radical Islamists, claiming that they were retaliating for the French incursion in Mali, invaded a gas-production complex in neighboring Algeria taking a number of hostages. Members of the Algerian security service stormed the complex and in their wake many hostages and militants were killed (Nossiter, 2013).

The events in Mali and Algeria were described by an expert on the Middle East and Africa as “the darker sides of the Arab uprisings” (Worth, 2013: A1). None of this is to indicate that the Arab Spring has been a failure, but it does demonstrate that a series of changes have been set in motion and it will take years to determine their long-term implications.

The developments in the Sahel area of North Africa reflect current thinking on globalization (see pp. 5-9), especially the increasing fluidity of global flows of many kinds. They also reflect the declining ability of structures such as national governments and borders to impede many types of flows.

References

Hagberg, Sten and Gabriella Körling, “Socio-political Turmoil in Mali: The Public Debate Following the Coup d’État on 22 March 2012.” Africa Spectrum 2-3, 2012: 111-125

Nossiter, Adam. “Algerians Find Many More Dead at Hostage Site.” New York Times January 21, 2013: A1, A8.

Worth, Robert F. “Jihadists’ Surge in North Africa Reveals Grim Side of Arab Spring.” New York Times January 20, 2013: 1, 13.

Violence against Women in India

George Ritzer, Introduction to Sociology. Sage, 2013.

Chapter 10, Page 375

Violence against Women in India

Violence against women, especially rape, is a global problem, but the case of a 23 year-old Indian woman who died as a result of a horrific gang rape in New Delhi in December, 2012 galvanized India and much of the world. This was not an isolated case nor is it restricted to New Delhi. For example, in what was apparently a well-planned attack just a month later in the north Indian state on Punjab, a woman was assaulted after accepting a motorcycle ride from the driver of a bus on which she had been riding. He took her to a nearby village where she was raped by repeatedly by six men, including the driver, the bus conductor and four other men (Timmons and Kumar, 2013).

The New Delhi case was particularly outrageous and brutal. A 23-year-old female medical student and a male friend had seen a movie and were seeking a ride when a bus pulled over, they were waved on board, and were charged 36 cents each. However, the bus was not a public but a private bus, although the couple was fooled into believing that it was a public bus. Six men, including the driver and another posing as a conductor, were out for a joy ride on the bus. Soon after the bus departed, the harassment of the woman began and her companion was beaten with a metal rod. The woman was then repeatedly raped by the men and she was penetrated by the metal rod as the bus circled the city. Eventually, the naked couple was dumped by the side of a highway on the outskirts of the city (Mandhana and Trivedi, 2012). The woman survived for almost 2 weeks but then died as a result of internal injuries.

The case aroused global indignation and public protests in India. It also brought attention to a broader pattern of murder and other forms of violence against women in India including killings over dowry disputes, sexual violence, family disputes, and discriminatory treatment of both infant girls and elderly women (Harris 2013). Sexual harassment is common and rape is a daily occurrence in New Delhi. In fact, New Delhi experiences nearly two rapes a day. One woman who lived in New Delhi for 24 years described the ways in which her life had been affected while living in New Delhi:

As a teenager, I learned to protect myself. I never stood alone if I could help it, and I walked quickly, crossing my arms over my chest, refusing to make eye contact or smile. I cleaved through crowds shoulder-first, and avoided leaving the house after dark except in a private car…I wore clothes that were two sizes too large…The steady thrum of whistles, catcalls, hisses, sexual innuendos and open threats continued. Packs of men dawdled on the street…To make their demands clear, they would thrust their pelvises at female passers-by…In my office…at the doctor’s office, even at a house party- I couldn’t escape the intimidation (Faleiro, 2013).

While this violence against women has a long history in India, as well as in many other places in the world, some believe that is has been fueled in recent years by the progress of women in Indian societies and the resulting hostility of males who blame their failures on the success of women (Harris, 2013).

The New Delhi rape has attracted global attention and spurred protests and demonstrations in India (Timmons and Gottipati, 2012). It remains to be seen whether anything changes; whether Indian women will be less subject to rape and other forms of sexual violence and harassment.

Faleiro, Sonia. “The Unspeakable Truth About Rape in India” New York Times January 1, 2013.

Harris, Gardiner. “India’s New Focus on Rape Shows Only the Surface of Women’s Perils.” New York Times January 13, 2013.

Mandhana, Niharika and Anjani Trivedi. “Indians Outraged Over Rape on Moving Bus in New Delhi.”  New York Times India Ink December 18, 2012.

Timmons, Heather and Sruthi Gottipati. “Indian Women March: `That Girl Could Have Been Any of Us”. New York Times December 30, 2012.

Timmons, Heather and Hari Kumar. “Indian Woman is Gang-Raped after Bus Ride.” New York Times India Ink January 13, 2013.

Extreme Weather around the World

George Ritzer, Introduction to Sociology. Sage, 2013.

Chapter 14, Page 585

 Extreme Weather around the World

An overwhelming body of scientific research over a long period of time and covering many parts of the world shows that the global climate has changed and that it is likely to change even more dramatically in the foreseeable future (National Research Council, 2011). As a result, the vast majority of scientists believe that we are in the early stages of global warming that is going to lead to a number of different kinds of weather extremes in various parts of the world (Field, 2012). These extremes, as well as climate change in general, are likely to have increasingly negative effects on life throughout the world. The impact is going to vary in different parts of the world, but in many the effect is going to be negative if not catastrophic. Those who doubt this, and are dubious about global warming, were likely shocked by the extreme weather patterns throughout much of the world in 2012 and which continued into early 2013. While these could have been aberrations, they are consistent with various weather extremes that have occurred for decades, especially throughout the first decade of the 21st century. It is likely that these extremes foreshadow what we can expect in the future. Among them are the following (Lyall, 2013):

  • 2012 was the hottest year in the recorded history in the United States
  • Rio de Janeiro reached a temperature of 109.8 degrees in late 2012- the highest since records began in 1915; the heat wave continued in Brazil into 2013
  • The same was true of a heat wave in Australia which followed two of its wettest years in its history; 2013 began in Sydney with the first days of the year being among its 20 hottest days in recorded history; since the 1950s every decade in Australia has been hotter than the preceding one
  • At the same time, the Middle East experienced extreme cold which brought, among many other stunning weather events, a highly unusual storm dumping eight inches of snow on Jerusalem
  • Extreme cold gripped Siberia and China, among other places
  • The northeastern coast of United States was struck by a devastating hurricane that wreaked havoc on many areas, especially New York City and the Jersey shore
  • England has a had a variety of weather extremes with 2012 being the wettest year in its history resulting in, among other things, floods in various places; London experienced unusually heavy snowfall in early 2013

A resident of England summed up the feelings of many in the country, as well as in many other parts of the world, about these new weather realities: “’We don’t expect extremes. We don’t expect it to be like this’” (Lyall, 2013: A10). It seems clear that in the future we will all need to learn to expect the unexpected as far as weather is concerned as well as the need to learn how to deal with it as best we can. Of course, what we most need to do is to change the various ways in which humans are serving as the major cause of these climate changes.

References:

Field, Christopher. Testimony of Christopher B. Field before

United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

on Update on the Latest Climate Change Science.

Washington, DC, August 2012.

Lyall, Sarah. “Heat, Flood or Icy Cold, Extreme Weather Rages Worldwide.” New York Times January 11, 2013: A4, A10.

National Research Council. America’s Climate Choices. National Academies Press, Washington DC., 2011.

The Internet Through a Postmodern Lens


This blog is derived from a plenary talk given in 2011 at the first Theorizing the Web conference at the University of Maryland. This seems an opportune time to raise the issues once again because they seem more relevant than ever. In addition they are offered here in anticipation of the third Theorizing the Web conference scheduled for early 2013 at the City University of New York.

Our understanding of the Internet, social networking, and the role of the prosumer in them is greatly enhanced by analyzing them through the lens of a number of ideas associated with postmodern theory.

There is, for example, the argument that the goal in any conversation, including those that characterize science, is not to find the “truth” but simply to keep the conversation going. The Internet is a site of such conversations. It is a world in which there is rarely, if ever, an answer, a conclusion, a finished product, a truth. Instead, there are lots of ongoing conversations and many new ideas and insights. Prime examples of this on the Internet include wikis in general and Wikipedia in particular, blogs and social networking sites. Google’s index is continually evolving and a complete iteration online content is impossible. All such sites involve open-ended processes that admit of no final conclusion.

Postmodernists tend to decenter whatever they analyze and to focus on the periphery. One searches in vain for the center of the Internet or of social networking sites. They are multi-faceted and always in the process of being made. As a result, even if a center could be found (and it can’t), it would immediately change. The idea of the “long tail” reflects this kind of decentering. Instead of focusing on a few “hits”, blockbusters, or best sellers, the long tail involves an emphasis on the infinitely larger number of phenomena (e.g. books, music productions) that are part of the long tail.

The work of Jean Baudrillard offers a treasure trove of ideas that are very useful in thinking about the Internet and Web 2.0. Implosion involves a contraction, a telescoping, a collapse of opposing poles in on one another. The digitality of phenomena makes them much more amenable to implosion. The possibilities for implosion in the digital world are endless. There are no physical barriers to limit, at least for very long, implosion in that world. It is this, of course, that lies at the heart of the ability to remix and mashup sound, photos, text and much else on the Internet.

Then there is the idea of simulations and the argument that we live in “the age of simulation”. Simulations are copies, even copies of copies. This idea of copies is particularly relevant in the Internet age which is a world of perfect copies without limit. The fact that copies are both unlimited and perfect (e.g. through file-sharing) makes the possibility of creating simulations on the Internet greater than ever before.

Simulations are not only copies, but they are also fakes. It is arguable that web-based locales bring the age of simulation to perhaps its highest point thus far. This is epitomized by the Sims and Second Life, as well as other artificial life simulations and games of various sorts. There are few, if any, material realities that restrict the ability to create simulations in these worlds. Indeed, there is nothing in these worlds but simulations.

The hyperreal is more real than real; more beautiful than beautiful; truer than true. It is beyond reality in every way. The Internet involves sites that are more real than comparable sites in the material world. Amazon.com has infinitely more books on sale than a bricks-and-mortar book stores and no parking lot based flea market can compare to the offerings on eBay. Hyperreal sex is available on many sites on the Internet. Remixes and mashups of photographs, videos, and the like are well-suited to producing pornographic images that are more real than real.

Ultimately, we can be seen as living in a fractal age where things proliferate endlessly and expand like a virus or a cancer.  There is no goal other than endless proliferation. The Internet is legendarily viral with all sorts of texts and images, as well as viruses and spam, proliferating endlessly.

An interesting idea in this context is the strength of the weak. In this case the weak are the individual users of the Internet and social networking sites. Their strength comes from the fact that their voices, while weak individually, become powerful when they are combined. Thus, for example, sites on the Internet that users visit individually can, when taken together, rise to the top when links are analyzed by Google’s algorithms. More dramatically, as in the Arab Spring, powerless individuals can come together, for example via Facebook and Twitter, and form a powerful revolutionary group.

The postmodern world is obscene since everything is made visible, broadcast, and so forth. The Internet is obscene because it is characterized by endless information and communication as well as never-ending social commentary,

Baudrillard’s most important anticipation of the current reality lies in his notion of symbolic exchange which involves the general and reversible processes of giving and receiving. This anticipates Chris Anderson’s world of the free, especially on the Internet. Those involved in the free world of the Internet offer gifts- additions to a Wikipedia entry, sharing a file, adding code to Linux, etc. In return, they receive various gifts including the knowledge Wikipedia has to offer, files from others, and the use of Linux. This symbolic exchange is not limited to a specific exchange of goods, but is rather continuous and unlimited.

The postmodern ideas employed here, and many others, are ideally suited to an analysis of the Internet and social networking. In fact, in many cases they seem to be more applicable today than they did when they were first created decades ago. In many ways, postmodern social theory can be said to have anticipated today’s (and even more tomorrow’s) realities and to have provided us with a toolkit full of concepts to analyze that world.

Of course, we should not be satisfied with extant concepts. Rather, we should relate them to new realities in order to help us create a set of new concepts and theories that will not only help us today, but will, hopefully, put us in a better position to analyze coming changes on the Internet and in social networking.